Television à la carte

I don’t have much time for television. Seldom more than 2-3 hours per week, most or all of it on PBS Wisconsin. I usually watch Washington Week, Here and Now (Wisconsin news), and Amanpour & Company each Friday evening, and quite a few of the Nova episodes.

Once or twice most Friday and Saturday evenings, we’ll flip through the broadcast television channels we are able to receive from Madison some 39 miles to the east, and if we’re unusually lucky we’ll happen upon something worth watching. Usually not. And then there’s the damned commercials. I’m sure wherever you are you’ll find as I do that at any given moment, most of the television stations (except for PBS) are airing commercials. Ugh!

When we travel and stay at a motel, we often flip through the cable channels they offer, and once again seldom find anything worth watching (except, perhaps, for PBS and C-SPAN), even though there are dozens and dozens of channels. Here, too, at any given moment, most of the cable channels (except for PBS and C-SPAN) are airing commercials.

I have an aversion to advertising of any kind, and will go to great lengths to avoid watching anything that is interrupted by commercials during the program. Some of you might not be old enough to remember that when cable television first came out, a big selling point was that by abandoning free broadcast television and paying for cable TV, you could watch programs free of advertising. Well, we know how long that lasted. The number of commercials we have to endure has increased dramatically since the “golden age of television” in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

In my opinion, almost all of the television stations offered on both broadcast TV and cable are garbage. I have not subscribed to cable TV since the early 1980s, and have never been a satellite TV subscriber.

The only way I would ever subscribe to any kind of television service (cable, satellite, or internet) is if I they gave customers the ability to pick and pay for only the channels you want. Television à la carte, in other words. And the list to choose from should be huge, including multiple PBS channels, documentary film channels, reputable news channels, foreign English-language channels (or at least with English subtitles), classic movie channels, and, yes, NASA TV. And, please get rid of the advertising except—if need be—in between programs. I would pay extra for this option.

I am also frustrated by not being able to watch many newly-released documentaries (or documentary series) without subscribing to a service. Why should I subscribe to a service when all I want to do is watch one program? Why not charge $12 (or whatever) for each program a person wants to watch?

There is a case to be made for “flipping through the channels” and happening upon a documentary, movie, or television program of interest that you might not discover otherwise, but until some company offers television à la carte with a wide selection, my local PBS station is going to get all of my television dollars. I am delighted that—with the advent of digital television—we now have four PBS Wisconsin television stations to choose from!